Sam Mason is in charge of science and technology records here at GWR. In a new regular feature on GuinnessWorldRecords.com, he’ll be taking a look at some of the fascinating developments and achievements within the category. Here he kicks off with some of 2014’s highlights so far.
The word ‘technology’ is rarely spoken during January without a mention of the Las Vegas based Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where a huge variety of cutting-edge electronics and technologies are showcased for the first time to members of the industry and press.
The show always draws speculation for which gadget may be the ‘next big thing’, and consistently plays host to new record breaking technologies and inventions.
In fact, the show is record-setting itself, holding the title for the Largest consumer electronics show, after 152,759 industry professionals, press, and exhibitors visited the 2013 show, making it far and away the largest of show of kind (we’re currently awaiting the official 2014 figures to determine if this year’s event has surpassed that figure).
A great deal of exhibitor’s space at this year’s event was devoted to ‘driverless car’ concepts and prototypes. These are founded on the idea that removing the unpredictable, error-prone and squishy human from behind the wheel of a car will lead to a reduced number of accidents, with close-to instantaneous robotic reaction times allowing for faster, more efficient, and more controlled driving.
BMW demonstrated the abilities of their modified 2-Series Coupe and 6-Series Gran Coupe, both of which utilise a combination of cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors to allow the car to anticipate and react with calculated precision. With many of the demonstrations showcasing the cars at their “dynamic limit”, slaloming at extreme speeds or controlling a drift with inhuman accuracy, we are confident that we will be witness to record breaking developments driverless cars soon - might a driverless car soon be able to contend for the Tightest parallel park? Here’s German wheelman Ronny Wechselberger setting the record last June – a benchmark that was somehow beaten by British driver Alastair Moffatt one month later.
Another driverless car manufacturer present at CES was Induct, who were showcasing the Navia, which holds the record for the First driverless car commercially available. Priced at $250,000, the Navia lies at the opposite end or the hair-raising spectrum to BMW’s tyre-screeching offerings. Peaking at a leisurely 12.5 mph (narrowly exceeding the top speed of a black mamba, the Fastest land snake, valuable information should you find yourself in such a situation) the Navia is intended for more tranquil settings, the first model sold in use at the campus of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland. It is currently being touted as a replacement to a traditional shuttle service, allowing users to summon the car from a smartphone or computer. Once on board, passengers can select their destination from the onboard touchscreen, and the car will navigate itself via GPS, avoiding obstacles through the use of four laser-based LIDAR units (Light Detection and Ranging). A fascinating sample of how the Navia ‘visualises’ the world with information from these units is pictured at the top of the page.
Marrying everyday lifestyle with technology was a key theme repeated again and again throughout this year’s array of exhibits, demonstrations and presentations. Previously ignored aspects of daily life are now the attention of the tech industry, with promises to stream live data about your dental hygiene from your toothbrush to your smartphone, or wear bracelets to monitor your exposure to harmful UV radiation.
The ‘wearable tech’ trend isn’t just a recent invention; LG released the First video phone watch back in 2009, but CES this year was populated with a large number of vendors publicising their latest wearable innovations. It’s too early to say which products will take off, as many of them are seemingly permutations of a similar concept, but this is an area we will be monitoring closely.
A great deal of attention and buzz was focused towards different computer manufacturer’s interpretations of Valve’s concept; the Steam Machine. Billed as a contender for the newest generation of gaming consoles, but offering some of the flexibility of a PC, these machines were one of the most talked-about offerings at CES this year, not least because of Valve’s record breaking history. Seemingly everything Valve turns its hand to adds to their impressively large brace of records, (holding the records for the Most critically acclaimed videogame developer, Largest digital game distributor, Best-selling mod franchise, to name just a few) and it will be fascinating to see if the Steam Machine can continue this trend.
Taking our focus away from the world of gadgets, and gazing away from our planet entirely, the Rosetta spacecraft recently woke from its 31 month power-saving hibernation. The tense atmosphere at the European Space Agency’s Operations on 20 January centre dissolved into relief and exultation at 18:18 GMT, when signals from the spacecraft were received by NASA’s Deep Space Network, demonstrating that it had successfully awoken. If all continues to go to plan, Rosetta and its lander Philae will be the First spacecraft to both orbit and land on a comet in August of this year, aiming to uncover the secrets of the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Sam Gulkis, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory when speaking of the scientific instruments onboard the craft, said they "will all work together to create the most complete picture of a comet to date, telling us how the comet works, what it is made of, and what it can tell us about the origins of the solar system."
Back with our feet firmly (under)ground, we visit the location containing the Longest echo ever recorded. The now-disused subterranean oil tank in Inchindown, Ross-shire, UK, was built over 80 years ago as a bombproof fuel oil store for the nearby naval anchorage. Since the closure of the anchorage, the tanks were drained, and remained mostly unoccupied for many years.
Professor Steven Cox happened upon the location while researching soundscapes for his book; Sonic Wonderland: A Scientific Odyssey of Sound. We use the International Standards Organisation’s definition of reverberation time for this record, which is the time taken for a sound to decay to 60 dB below the level of the initial impulse sound. Interestingly, this reverberation time is invariant of how loud the initial sound is, causing you to get the same measurement each time.
Typically, a loud, broadband (covering low and high pitches) sound is used, such as a pistol blank or a balloon popping. In Professor Cox’s measurements, the reverberations lasted for a staggering total of 75 seconds, far and away exceeding the previous record of 15 seconds. A sound clip of the echo can be sampled below:
Sticking with our sub-surface theme, January marked 60 years since the launch of the USS Nautilus, the First nuclear submarine.
In 1955, it made a record breaking voyage of 2,222 km (1,381 miles) in 90 hours, and was the first submarine to travel under the ice cap to the North Pole, arriving on 3 August 1958.
The anniversary has prompted insightful accounts from the crew to take part in its maiden voyage; the ex-submariner Jerry Armstrong told the BBC World Service: “I hated cottage cheese, but one time we stayed submerged for a long time and when the ship surfaced I began to crave cottage cheese. I think breathing the recycled air changed my metabolism.”
I’ll be back next week for a round-up of February’s goings on in the world of tech and science, where I’ll also be taking a look at this contraption.
It looks like it’s been put together in Doc Brown’s lab – but can anyone tell what it is?
All will be revealed next week.